What to Buy

7 Space-Savers That Made My Shoebox-Sized Apartment Feel Bigger

Four moves and seven years later, they’re still with me.

June 25, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

Rent Like You Mean It is a series all about giving our rental spaces a new lease. We’ve rounded up a whole host of refreshing spruce-ups (and cover-ups), impactful DIYs (plus how to get them back to square one when you leave), and peeks at real-life rental transformations. Because a lease should never stop you from having a space that feels like yours—even if it’s only for a year.

When I moved into my first shoebox-sized apartment (not to be confused with the second), I was on a super-tight budget, thanks to having paid the security deposit, first and last month’s rent, and moving costs. So when it came to furniture and decor, I could either plaster my walls with empty alcohol bottles or look for hidden gems that would balance budget and quality—and ideally, last a few moves before I’d retire them on Craigslist.

Guess which one I chose?

Four moves and seven years later, I still use some of the space-saving furniture and decor from my (tiny) first apartment in my (thankfully, larger) house. I sold, donated, or gave away things I didn’t want to keep (goodbye to the tension rod that never stayed in place), but my favorite pieces are still totally functional and look great in my current space.

Here are the pieces from my first apartment that I still use... more than seven years later.

1. Blissun Ladder Shelf, 4-Tier Bookshelf, $68.99

I had to make the most of the vertical space I had—which was always more than the horizontal space in any apartment. I’ve had this ladder bookshelf for years and it’s been a sturdy workhorse holding a bunch of plants, books, souvenirs, and more. The open design made my small living room feel less cramped and the industrial vibe always looked great in any apartment I moved into later.

Photo by Amazon

2. Zinus Shalini Upholstered Platform Bed Frame, $169.40

As someone who discovered Zinus randomly one night and now owns five pieces of its furniture, it’s truly an underrated brand. I used this bed frame for two years before getting a bigger one for my first house and now, it’s in the guest room. It’s super easy to assemble (all the pieces can be stored in a compartment behind the headboard), doesn’t squeak or sag, and is relatively lightweight for a bed frame.

Photo by Amazon

3. Mkono 6.5" Plastic Planters with Saucers, $17.98

I love plants—all sorts of greenery, really—but mismatched pots can make a small space feel more cluttered and claustrophobic. These sleek white planters were perfect for streamlining my plant collection, and the color (or lack thereof) added an extra bit of airiness in my windowless bedroom. They’re super lightweight, have a drainage hole, and come with saucers to catch water and prevent damage, too.

Photo by Amazon

4. Zinus Modern Studio Collection TV Media Stand, $62.89

Just like with my pots, I like matching, coordinated decor. That explains why I have Zinus’ media stand, coffee table, and console table all from the same Modern Studio collection (unfortunately, some have been discontinued). The industrial-rustic look fit right in alongside the ladder bookshelf and has the same open design to avoid overwhelming small spaces. The metal frame hasn’t warped and the faux wood tabletop hasn’t sagged despite years of use.

Photo by Amazon

5. The Container Store Weathered Smoke C-Table, $49.99

I needed something that could be used as a nightstand, end table, and desk, and this C-table fit the bill—and budget. I bought the all-white version (this was before I decided that industrial was my vibe) and covered it in faux marble contact paper (see what I mean?). Nonetheless, it’s still looking good seven years later and I still use it as a nightstand.

Photo by Amazon

6. IKEA Lack Side Table, $9.99

Ah, good ol’ IKEA. This Lack table was one of my first IKEA purchases and I just can’t part ways with it—it’s super lightweight, versatile, and such a clean design that I can’t knock it even though it doesn’t match with my industrial decor. And just like with the C-table, it’s also covered with marble contact paper from my glam days of yore.

Photo by IKEA

7. Safavieh Milan Shag Collection, $23.44

I needed a match-with-anything rug considering my apartment lease was only for a year and Safavieh’s cream shag rug brought my space together—it currently works its magic underneath my couch in the living room. It feels super comfy underfoot and there are a ton of sizes to fit any space. Of course, the prices get higher as you size up, but my first apartment was a closet so it literally couldn’t fit anything larger than a runner.

Photo by Amazon

What items have you kept from your first apartment? Tell us in the comments below!

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Jada Wong

Written by: Jada Wong

Jada is the market editor at Food52 with a decade of experience writing and editing for online publications such as Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, and Insider.